Developing Story

Zuckerberg testifies at congressional hearings

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying at two congressional hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Let’s see how Zuckerberg responds to Facebook’s multiple privacy controversies.

Mark Zuckerberg’s data was collected by third parties

In questioning before the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce today, Mark Zuckerberg said that his personal Facebook data was harvested as part of the sweep of personal data that was used by third parties like Cambridge Analytica.

As part of a fiery 4 minute round of questioning, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (who represents Silicon Valley) asked Zuckerberg “Was your data included in the data sold to the malicious third parties? Your personal data?”

Zuckerberg replied “Yes.”

It’s the first instance (that I know of) where Zuckerberg has said that he was impacted directly by Facebook’s own privacy violations.

Zuckerberg tells Congress Facebook is not listening to you through your phone

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially shot down the conspiracy theory that the social network has some way of keeping tabs on its users by tapping into the mics on people’s smartphones. During Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate this afternoon, Senator Gary Peters had asked the CEO if the social network is mining audio from mobile devices — something his constituents have been asking him about, he said.

Zuckerberg denied this sort of audio data collection was taking place.

The fact that so many people believe that Facebook is “listening” to their private conversations is representative of how mistrustful users have grown of the company and its data privacy practices, the Senator noted.

“I think it’s safe to say very simply that Facebook is losing the trust of an awful lot of Americans as a result of this incident,” said Peters, tying his constituents’ questions about mobile data mining to their outrage over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Questions about Facebook’s mobile data collection practices aren’t anything new, however.

In fact, Facebook went on record back in 2016 to state — full stop — that it does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or News Feed stories.

Despite this, it’s something that keeps coming up, time and again. The Wall Street Journal even ran an explainer video about the conspiracy last month. And yet none of the reporting seems to quash the rumor.

People simply refuse to believe it’s not happening. They’ll tell you of very specific times when something they swear they only uttered aloud quickly appeared in their Facebook News Feed.

Perhaps their inability to believe Facebook on the matter is more of an indication of how precise — and downright creepy — Facebook’s ad targeting capabilities have become over the years.

Peters took the opportunity today to ask Zuckerberg this question straight on today, during Zuckerberg’s testimony.

“Something that I’ve been hearing a lot from folks who have been coming up to me and talking about a kind of experience they’ve had where they’re having a conversation with friends — not on the phone, just talking. And then they see ads popping up fairly quickly on their Facebook,” Peters explained. “So I’ve heard constituents fear that Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purposes of ad targeting — which I think speaks to the lack of trust that we’re seeing here.”

He then asked Zuckerberg to state if this is something Facebook did.

“Yes or no: Does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users?,” Peters asked.

Zuckerberg responded simply: “No.”

The CEO then added that his answer meant “no” in terms of the conspiracy theory that keeps getting passed around, but noted that the social network does allow users to record videos, which have an audio component. That was a bit of an unnecessary clarification, though, given that the question was about surreptitious recording, not something users were explicitly recording media to share.

“Hopefully that will dispel a lot of what I’ve been hearing,” Peters said, after hearing Zuckerberg’s response.

We wouldn’t be too sure.

There have been a number of lengthy explanations of the technical limitations regarding a project of this scale, which have also pointed out how easy it would be to detect this practice, if it were true. But there are still those people out there who believe things to be true because they feel true.

And at the end of the day, the fact that this conspiracy refuses to die says something about how Facebook users view the company: as a stalker that creeps on their privacy, and then can’t be believed when it tells you, “no, trust me, we don’t do that.”

Cambridge Analytica may have accessed some Facebook users’ messages

The app permissions that led to 87 million Facebook users’ data being harvested and sold to Cambridge Analytica may have also allowed access to those users’ inboxes, the company confirmed today. This wasn’t achieved by any underhanded means, exactly, but people might not have realized that they were granting permission to read and record their private messages as well as more public data like location and interests.

That messages may have been collected by CA was revealed first by Facebook itself as part of its warning issued to the 87 million users in question. “A small number of people who logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ also shared their own News Feed, timeline, posts and messages which may have included posts and messages from you,” reads the warning.

Access to messages had not been previously disclosed. And, of course, if someone affected had chatted with you, then your messages would also have been collected.

The permission used to do this was called “read_mailbox,” though it would have been put in more everyday terms when a user was agreeing to it. The dialog box would have said something along the lines of, “This app will be able to access your wall posts, friend list, contacts, messages…” in bullet points.

This Is Your Digital Life, the app created by researcher Aleksandr Kogan, which served as the harvester for all this data, requested “read_mailbox” privileges for some period and, as Facebook tells Wired, a total of 1,500 people granted that permission.

It’s unclear why the number is so low if hundreds of thousands agreed to the terms, but the app may only have requested messaging access for a brief period — stopping, perhaps, upon finding that people balked at granting it.

Still, even if only 1,500 people had their messages collected directly, the number of people whose messages were indirectly collected could be orders of magnitude higher. After all, look at your inbox, if you have one — there are likely dozens of conversations, perhaps with hundreds of people. So that 1,500 could balloon to 150,000 real fast.

I’ve asked Facebook for clarification on how the 1,500 number was determined and what the number of secondary affected users is.

Mark Zuckerberg: “We do not sell data to advertisers”

While many of us in the tech world are familiar with Facebook’s business model, there is a common misconception among people that Facebook collects information about you and then sells that information to advertisers.

Zuckerberg wants everyone (especially the U.S. Senate) to know that’s not the case, and has laid forth the most simple example to explain it.

During his testimony, the Facebook CEO clarified to Senator John Cornyn that Facebook does not sell data.

There is a very common misconception that we sell data to advertisers, and we do not sell data to advertisers. What we allow is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach and then we do the placement. So, if an advertiser comes to us and says, ‘Alright, I’m a ski shop and I want to sell skis to women,’ then we might have some sense because people shared skiing related content or said they were interested in that. They shared whether they’re a woman. And then we can show the ads to the right people without that data ever changing hands and going to the advertiser. That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.

While, again, this may seem straightforward to many of us, Zuckerberg found himself having to explain more than once that Facebook does not sell data during his Senate testimony.

‘You don’t think you have a monopoly?’ Read Sen. Graham’s delightful grilling of Zuckerberg

Today’s testimony by Mark Zuckerberg in front of a Senate joint committee was often boring or redundant with previous statements. But there was an exchange near the two-hour mark that was pleasantly refreshing: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) doggedly pursuing a common-sense answer from Zuckerberg on the question of whether it had any real competition.

Graham doesn’t let Zuckerberg employ his spin on the admittedly complex question of what Facebook’s competitors are. Demanding a simpler answer by employing a folksy car-buying metaphor, he makes it clear that at least from one perspective, Facebook is more or less without a real competitor — with the possible exception of Instagram, which it of course opted to buy for a fortune rather than allow it to exist as a credible rival.

The Senator also makes it clear that he doesn’t think Facebook should be allowed to self-regulate — but his invitation to Zuckerberg to collaborate on rules sure sounds like he wants the company to have a say in how it should or should not be bound by law.

I’ve transcribed the exchange below:

Graham: Who’s your biggest competitor?
Zuckerberg: Senator, we have a lot of competitors.
Graham: Who’s your biggest?
Zuckerberg: Mmm… I think the categories of… do you want just one? I’m not sure I can give one. But can I give a bunch?
Graham: Mmhm.
Zuckerberg: So there are three categories I would focus on. One are [sic] the other tech platforms, so Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, we overlap with them in different ways.
Graham: Do they do, do they provide the same service that you provide?
Zuckerberg: Um, in different ways, different parts of it yes.
Graham: Let me put it this way. If I buy a Ford and it doesn’t work well and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product that I can go sign up for?
Zuckerberg: Ah well, the second category that I was going to talk about was…
Graham: I’m not talking about categories. I’m talking about is there real competition you face. Because car companies face a lot of competition. If they make a defective car, it gets out in the world, people stop buying that car, they buy another one. Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?
Zuckerberg: Yes Senator, the average American uses 8 different apps…
Graham: OK.
Zuckerberg: …to communicate with their friends and stay in touch with people, ranging from text to email.
Graham: OK, which is the same service that you provide.
Zuckerberg: Well, we provide a number of different services.
Graham: Is Twitter the same as what you do?
Zuckerberg: It overlaps with a portion of what we do.
Graham: You don’t think you have a monopoly?
Zuckerberg: (long pause) Ah, it certainly doesn’t feel like that to me! (laughter)
Graham: OK, so it doesn’t. So, Instagram. You bought Instagram. Why did you buy Instagram?
Zuckerberg: Because they were very talented app developers who were making good use of our platform and understood our values.
Graham: It was a good business decision. My point is that one way to regulate a company is through competition, through government regulation. Here’s the question that all of us got to answer. What do we tell our constituents, given what’s happened here, why we should let you self-regulate? What would you tell people in South Carolina, that given all the things we’ve just discovered here, it’s a good idea for us to rely on you to regulate your own business practices?
Zuckerberg: Well Senator, my position is not that there should be no regulation. I think the internet is increasing in…
Graham: Mmkay. You’d embrace regulation?
Zuckerberg: I think the real question as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be regulation.
Graham: But you as a company welcome regulation?
Zuckerberg: I think if it’s the right regulation then yes.
Graham: Do you think the Europeans have it right?
Zuckerberg: Ah, I think that they get… things right.
Graham: Have you ever submitted… (laughter) That’s true. So would you work with us in terms of what regulations you think are necessary in your industry?
Zuckerberg: Absolutely.
Graham: OK, would you submit to us and propose regulations?
Zuckerberg: Yes and I’ll have my team follow up with you so that way we can have this discussion across the different categories where I think this discussion needs to happen.
Graham: Looking forward to it.

While it’s admittedly not the toughest questioning, it does baldly address the simple idea that Graham and others consider Facebook effectively a monopoly and intend to craft regulations or legislation to remedy what they perceive as a regulatory gap.

Palmer Luckey, political martyr?

In the middle of testimony over Facebook’s privacy scandal, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas took a moment to grill Mark Zuckerberg over his company’s political loyalties.

In the course of a testy exchange between Sen. Cruz and Zuckerberg, the senator brought up the dismissal of Palmer Luckey, the controversial founder of virtual reality tech development pioneer, Oculus.

It was part of Cruz’s broader questioning about whether or not Facebook is biased in the ways it moderates the posts and accounts of members — and in its staffing policies.

Here’s the exchange:

Cruz: Do you know the political orientation of those 15 to 20,000 people engaged in content review?

Zuckerberg: No senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they’re joining the company.

Cruz: So, as CEO Have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates they supported?

Zuckerberg: No.

Cruz: Why was Palmer Luckey fired?

Zuckerberg: That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here.

Cruz: You just made a specific representation that you didn’t make decisions based on political views, is that accurate?

Zuckerberg: I can commit that it was not because of a political view.

Luckey left Facebook last March, after reports surfaced that he was a member of a pro-Trump troll farm called Nimble America.

Luckey’s departure follows a lengthy period of absence from public view brought about by a Daily Beast piece revealing his involvement and funding of a pro-Trump troll group called Nimble America. News of his support came during a time when very few figures in Silicon Valley were publicly showing support for candidate Trump, the most notable being Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook who started the VC firm Founders Fund, which backed Oculus, as well.

Though Luckey initially denied funding the group, he ultimately took to social media to apologize in the midst of an upheaval that had many developers threatening to leave the platform. His last public statement (on Facebook, of course) was a mixture of regret and defense, reading, in part, “I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners. The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views… my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”

Sen. Cruz could have had another reason in bringing up Luckey during Zuckerberg’s testimony. The virtual reality entrepreneur has donated some very real dollars to the senator’s coffers (as Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac noted).

Facebook share price climbs as Zuckerberg gets grilled by the Senate

Shareholders seemed to have incredibly low expectations of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to handle a Senate testimony, because Facebook stock climbed 4.5 percent Tuesday with the bulk of the gains coming during his televised testimony.

Though the markets closed nearly an hour ago, Zuckerberg is still being peppered by Senators in an hours-long testimony session where the group is aiming to hear more from the company’s CEO and founder about data protection in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

While there have been tough questions from several senators, rhetoric regarding government regulation of internet companies like Facebook was not overly pronounced in opening statements, though several Senators did directly address it in their questioning.

While Zuckerberg’s apology tour of the Capitol building seems to have largely been devoted to rehashing the major changes they’ve announced in recent days and weeks, he did reveal that the number of Facebook accounts with ties to Russian Intelligence could be in the “tens of thousands,” an admission that greatly exceeds the several hundred that Facebook had previously disclosed.

Facebook’s gains Tuesday brought the company’s share price to close above $165, a number it has not closed above in nearly three weeks. Facebook is still far below the $185 share price it was above before Cambridge Analytica reports were shared from a number of publications in mid-March.


Zuckerberg urges privacy carve outs to compete with China

Facebook’s founder said last month that the company is open to being regulated. But today he got asked by the US senate what sort of legislative changes he would (and wouldn’t) like to see as a fix for the problems that the Cambridge Analytica data scandal has revealed.

Zuckerberg’s response on this — and on another question about his view on European privacy regulations — showed in the greatest detail yet how he’s hoping data handling and privacy rules evolve in the US, including a direct call for regulatory carve outs to — as he couched it — avoid the US falling behind Chinese competitors.

Laying out “a few principles” that he said he believes would be “useful to discuss and potentially codify into law”, Zuckerberg first advocated for having “a simple and practical set of ways that you explain what you’re doing with data”, revealing an appetite to offload the problem of tricky privacy disclosures via a handy universal standard that can apply to all players.

“It’s hard to say that people fully understand something when it’s only written out in a long legal document,” he added. “This stuff needs to be implemented in a way where people can actually understand it.”

He then talked up the notion of “giving people complete control” over the content they share — claiming this is “the most important principle for Facebook”.

“Every piece of content that you share on Facebook, you own and you have complete control over who sees it and how you share it — and you can remove it at any time,” he said, without mentioning how far from that principle the company has been at other times in its history.

“I think that that control is something that’s important — and I think should apply to every service,” he continued, making a not-so-subtle plea for no other platforms to be able to leak data like Facebook’s platform historically has (and thus to close any competitive loopholes that might open up as a result of Facebook tightening the screw on developer access to data now in the face of a major scandal).

His final and most controversial point in response to the legislative changes question was about what he dubbed “enabling innovation”.

“Some of these use cases that are very sensitive, like face recognition for example,” he said carefully. “And I think that there’s a balance that’s extremely important to strike here where you obtain special consent for sensitive features like facial recognition. But don’t — but that we still need to make it so that American companies can innovate in those areas.

“Or else we’re going to fall behind Chinese competitors and others around the world who have different regimes for different, new features like that.”

Zuckerberg did not say which Chinese competitors he was thinking of specifically. But earlier this week ecommerce giant Alibaba announced another major investment in a facial recognition software business, leading a $600M Series C round in Hong Kong-based SenseTime — as one possible rival example.

A little later in the session, Zuckerberg was also directly asked whether European privacy regulations should be applied in the US. And here again he showed more of his hand — once again refusing to confirm if Facebook will implement “the exact same regulation” for North American users, as some consumer groups have been calling for it to.

“Regardless of whether we implement the exact same regulation — I would guess it would be somewhat different because we have somewhat different sensibilities in the US, as do other countries — we’re committed to rolling out the controls and the affirmative consent, and the special controls around sensitive types of technologies like face recognition that are required in GDPR, we’re doing that around the world,” he reiterated.

“So I think it’s certainly worth discussing whether we should have something similar in the US but what I would like to say today is that we’re going to go forward and implement that [the same controls and affirmative consent] regardless of what the regulatory outcome is.”

Given that’s now the third refusal by Facebook to confirm GDPR will apply universally, it looks pretty clear that users in North American will get some degree of second tier privacy vs international users — unless or until US lawmakers forcibly raise standards on the company and the industry as a whole.

That is perhaps to be expected. But it’s still a tricky PR message for Facebook to be having to deliver in the midst of a major data scandal — hence Zuckerberg’s attempt to reframe it as a matter of domestic vs foreign “sensibilities”.

Whether North American Facebook users buy into his repackaging of coach class privacy standards vs the rest of the world as just a little local flavor remains to be seen.

In Senate hearing, Zuckerberg faces blame over violence in Myanmar

While the recent Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal is the main focus for American lawmakers questioning Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg today, the company’s record beyond the U.S. raises even more alarms.

During the hearing, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy brought up the company’s role in the ongoing ethnic violence in Myanmar, citing one incident where death threats against a Muslim journalist did not violate the platform’s rules. In Myanmar, journalists are regularly arrested and even killed for reporting on the government’s activities.

“Six months ago I asked your general counsel about Facebook’s role as a breeding ground for hate speech against Rohingya refugees,” Leahy said. “Recently, U.N. investigators blamed Facebook for playing a role in inciting the possible genocide in Myanmar, and there has been genocide there.”

Using screenshots mounted on a poster, the Senator cited a specific threat calling for the death of Muslim journalists in the country:

That threat went straight through your detection systems. It spread very quickly and it took attempt after attempt after attempt and the involvement of civil society groups to get you to remove it. Why couldn’t it be removed within 24 hours?

Screenshot from C-Span

Leahy interrupted Zuckerberg when he began to opine about the country’s tragedy. “We all agree it’s terrible,” Leahy said, pressing the Facebook founder for substantive answers.

Zuckerberg cited the language barrier as one of the main obstacles to proper moderation of hate speech and calls for violence.

“Hate speech is very language specific. It’s hard to do it without people who speak the local language and we need to ramp up our effort there dramatically,” Zuckerberg said.

He mentioned the company’s plan to hire “dozens” of Burmese language content reviewers as the first part of a three-pronged approach in Myanmar, also noting a partnership with civil society groups to identify hate figures in the country rather than focusing on removing individual pieces of content.

Third, Zuckerberg stated that Facebook is “standing up a product team to do specific product changes in Myanmar” and other countries with similar situations, though he did not delve into the specifics of those changes.

Leahy’s line of questioning about Facebook’s influence in Myanmar is not speculative. In March, United Nations investigators concluded that disinformation campaigns facilitated by Facebook have played a “determining role” in inciting violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority ethnic group.

As Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, stated those findings:

[Social media] has …substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.

On April 5, a group of six NGOs working in the country addressed a critical letter to Zuckerberg, citing “issues that have been rife on Facebook in Myanmar for more than four years now,” criticizing the company for crediting its own systems with catching violent messages when in fact it had been these organizations doing the moderation work. When Zuckerberg responded to that letter just a day before he appeared before Congress, the NGO group dismissed his apology as “grossly insufficient.” It’s unlikely that they’ll be pleased with his lackluster testimony on the issue.

Last October, Facebook told TechCrunch that it works with NGOs and the local community in Myanmar to communicate its policies there, though its efforts seemed fairly toothless. At the time, the focus of that initiative was to “empower people in Myanmar to share positive messages online,” and one component offered local education on fake news. But by October of last year, incitements to violence on Facebook were already being connected to real-world acts against the country’s Rohingya population — a group facing systemic violence that’s widely regarded as a genocide.

For Facebook users in Myanmar, a country in which the platform is synonymous with the internet itself, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the NGOs Facebook relies on in the Southeast Asian country deeply dissatisfied, it’s clear that words alone will no longer suffice.

Zuckerberg admits it was a mistake not to ban Cambridge Analytica’s ads

Facebook didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica when it found out in 2015 that it had received user data from Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, and Zuckerberg called that a mistake during his testimony before the Senate. Cambridge Analytica has since been banned.

Zuckerberg explained that “I want to correct one thing that I said earlier in response to a question from Senator Leahy. He had asked why we didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica at the time when we learned of them in 2015. And I answered that what my understanding was was that they were not on the platform, were not an app developer or advertiser. When I went back and met with my team afterwards, they let me know that Cambridge Analytica actually did start as an advertiser later in 2015, so we could have in theory banned them back then, and made a mistake by not doing so.”

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 19: CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit – Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

When the Guardian informed Facebook about Kogan sharing user data to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook banned Kogan, and required Cambridge Analytica to formally certify that it had deleted all the improperly attained user data. Cambridge Analytica did so, Zuckerberg confirmed in his prepared testimony for today. But Facebook then stopped short of blocking Cambridge Analytica from buying ads on its platform. The company went on to work with the Trump campaign to help it optimize political messaging and ad targeting.

Had Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica at the time, it wouldn’t have been able to buy ads directly on behalf of political campaigns with which it worked. However, the company might still have been able to help these campaigns to optimize their ads, so a 2015 ban wouldn’t have necessarily prevented second-hand use of improperly attained data.

‘Tens of thousands’ of Facebook accounts may be related to Russian intelligence

Facebook has previously officially noted that 470 accounts associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency have been banned related to the 2016 election, plus 270 more in Russia just last week. But in today’s testimony Mark Zuckerberg also mentioned a much higher estimate of “tens of thousands,” though the confidence in this number would be also be much lower.

“In the IRA specifically, the ones we’ve pegged back to the IRA, we can identify 470 in the American elections, and the 270 that we went after in Russia last week,” he began in response to Senator Feinstein (D-), who had asked about the numbers of accounts associated with this type of coordinated disinformation campaign.

But then he continued:

“There are many others that our systems catch which are more difficult to attribute specifically to Russian intelligence, but the number would be in the tens of thousands of fake accounts…”

The tens of thousands number must be taken with a grain of salt, since clearly Facebook has not been able to definitively attribute more than the stated 740 or so to the IRA and Russian intel. But it is still significant; this is clearly different from the 30,000-odd accounts banned in relation to France’s election. That was a specific number and also not mentioned in connection with Russia specifically, as this estimate was.

It seems clear that Facebook is being conservative in its enumeration of Russian-linked accounts, and that very well may be the responsible thing to do. But Zuckerberg’s remarks today establish a ceiling in the tens of thousands in addition to the floor of several hundred. That’s worth keeping in mind.

Mark Zuckerberg: ‘There will always be a version of Facebook that is free’

Today during Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate, the Facebook CEO reiterated that “there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.”

In the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the user data of up to 87 million people was sold by a third-party developer to Trump Campaign-linked firm Cambridge Analytica, there has been talk of Facebook potentially adding a subscription layer.

The scandal has brought to light the heart of a problem that many have been well aware of: if you’re not buying a product, you are the product.

Last week, when asked if there might be a way for users to opt out of being targeted for ads, Sandberg responded saying they’d have to pay for it.

“We have different forms of opt-out,” Sandberg replied. “We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.”

Our own Josh Constine made an argument that ad-free subscriptions could save Facebook. And while there’s no word on an ad-free subscription, Zuckerberg did at least leave room for it in the future, noting that there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.

“How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg.

“Senator, we run ads.”

Zuckerberg confirms Facebook has been interviewed by Mueller’s special counsel

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election interference has interviewed at least one employee of Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed today during his testimony before the Senate. Zuckerberg confirmed that he himself had not been interviewed, then declined to elaborate, citing the confidentiality of the investigation.

Senator Leahy asked “I assume Facebook has been served with subpoenas from the special counsel’s office?” Zuckerberg replied “yes.”

Leahy then asked if Zuckerberg or anyone at Facebook had been contacted by the special counsel, and Zuckerberg responded “Yes.” When asked if he specifically had been interviewed, the CEO replied “I have not.” Leahy followed up, asking “Others have?” Zuckerberg responded “I believe so.”

Zuckerberg then got cagey, explaining that “I want to be careful here because our work with the special counsel is confidential and I want to make sure that in an open session I’m not revealing something that’s confidential.” Leahy asked again to confirm Facebook had been contacted and received subpoenas, to which Zuckerberg responded, “Actually let me clarify. I actually am not aware of a subpoena. I believe that there may be. But I know that we’re working with them.”

You can watch this part of the testimony below:

Wired reported in January that at least one Facebook staffer had been interviewed by Mueller, and that they were associated with the Trump campaign. Facebook provided assistance to both the Trump and Clinton campaigns in using Facebook’s tools.

Now, given information that’s come to light about the Trump campaign working with Cambridge Analytica to optimize its campaigns, and about how Cambridge Analytica obtained that data improperly from a Facebook app built by researcher Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, Mueller’s investigation may have been interested to know if the Facebook staffer was aware of the improperly obtained data. Alternatively, Mueller may have simply been interested in whether the Facebook staffer knew of any Russian connection to the campaign.

You can follow TechCrunch’s coverage of the Zuckerberg testimony here:

A literal Russian troll is lurking at the Zuckerberg hearing

Today at Mark Zuckerberg’s first of two hearings with Congress, the meme maker formerly known as the Monopoly Man made a surprise cameo in troll form to troll the Facebook founder.

The Monopoly Man, a.k.a. Amanda Werner, made their first splash as a mascot of corporate greed during a Senate hearing with Equifax’s CEO Richard Smith. Werner, dressed as Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags, sat just behind Smith for the entirety of his testimony, fiddling with a monocle and mopping their brow with oversized $100 bills.

“Since Zuckerberg allowed millions of Russian trolls to undermine our democracy, I assume he won’t mind if one Russian troll undermines his credibility,” Werner said in a statement on the stunt.

The gags are over the top, but they’re meant to draw attention to meaningful consumer causes. Werner’s Equifax appearance, an undertaking by an organization called Public Citizen, was focused on highlighting consumer-hostile forced arbitration clauses.

“Corporate giants like Facebook and Equifax must face serious penalties when they expose our private information,” Werner said. “Without meaningful legislation these hearings are more spectacle than substance — so I will continue to steal the spotlight until Senators stop grandstanding and start lawmaking.”